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Clipper Round the World Yacht Race - Geraldton battered but determined

by Heather Ewing on 3 Apr 2012
Geraldton Western Australia crew in Qingdao ahead of Race 9 start to Oakland, San Francisco Bay - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race onEdition © http://www.onEdition.com
Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are on the twenty ninth day of race nine from Qingdao to Oakland, California

The end of the Pacific Ocean is in sight for the battered, weary but very determined crew of Geraldton Western Australia after two dramatic days on board their 68-foot ocean racing yacht. The team is expected to arrive in Jack London Square, Oakland, at approximately 1am tomorrow, (0800 UTC/0900 BST) after a gruelling 6,000-mile journey across the vast, forbidding expanse of the world’s largest ocean.

On Saturday, as they were 400 miles off the California coast,a huge wave broke across the back of the boat injuring four of those on board. Last night the two most seriously injured, Jane Hitchins, 50, a doctor from Kent, UK, with suspected broken ribs; and Nik Brbora, 29, a software engineer from London, UK, with a suspected pelvic sprain, were transferred by small boat to the state of the art US Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf. Earlier the crew had made the decision not to attempt an airlift because of the conditions.

Video footage from the US Coast Guard shows the huge swell both vessels had to contend with during the rescue operation.

Jane and Nik are due to arrive at the Coast Guard facility at Alameda in San Francisco Bay on board the USCG Bertholf at approximately 3pm local time (2200 UTC/2300 BST) this afternoon and will be transferred by ambulance to hospital in San Francisco.

Meanwhile, Max Wilson, 62, who also has a suspected rib injury, and is determined to finish the race under the Golden Gate Bridge, and Mark Burkes, 47, whose back injury is not as serious as initially thought, have remained on board with the rest of the crew. They are now making good progress towards Oakland under their secondary steering system which they immediately set up after the massive force of the wave took out their wheel and steering column.

Messages of support for the crew from all over the world have been tweeted and posted on the official Clipper Race page on Facebook and Tourism Western Australia’s team in London said, 'We can’t even begin to imagine the situation on board but wanted to send our best wishes to you all and belief that the team’s strength and tremendous courage, led by Juan [Coetzer], will get you safely to the US.

'We will closely follow your Race News and updates awaiting the safe arrival to shore.'

The team is expected to arrive in Jack London Square, Oakland, at approximately 1am local time on Wednesday morning (0800 UTC/0900 BST).

Last night three other yachts completed the longest individual stage of the 15-race 40,000-mile competition, arriving to a warm welcome in Oakland.


De Lage Landen’s crew, who had their own drama earlier in the race when one of their crew members was injured close to Japan, fulfilled their promise to her as she left the boat and did not finish last.

The team completed the course in seventh place and immediately set about celebrating their achievement, which also sees them climb above Visit Finland to second place overall in Clipper 11-12.

Olly Osborne, the skipper of Visit Finland, which drops down to third place, explained just how tough it was in the North Pacific.

'It’s been relentless,' he said. 'It’s certainly been very demanding, more so than any other race that we’ve done. The objective for the leg for me was finishing. Coming in ninth wasn’t our best result, but I think it was all about getting through it and getting here in once piece.

'At times I felt the sea state was quite threatening and you get a cross swell, especially at nightwhen it’s pitch black and you don’t see it coming. We took a few serious wallops. Visit Finlandwas never fully knocked down, but you just wonder when the next one is coming and you think, oh no, someone is going to get done in – but you don’t, you survive.

'Coming into the finish we saw the sun for the first time in the last month and we did about 27 knots coming into a big breaking wave. It was just an epic feeling; quite exhilarating. Then the Golden Gate Bridge appeared – a wonderful sight!'

Finnish round the world crew member, RiikkaPuustinen, was also thrilled to reach in Oakland.

'The arrival was absolutely fantastic and such a contrast. We have spent one month in grey, miserable, wet, horrible weather across the whole Pacific Ocean and then upon our arrival we have beautiful sunshine and we did our speed record, due to the swell just before the gate, as we surfed at 27 knots of boat speed. It was such an amazing finish to the whole journey.

'Even though we are finishing ninth, I can’t be unhappy, because this time it felt like it wasn’t about the race, it was about the endurance and just making it across in one piece with no injuries.'

Edinburgh Inspiring Capital’s crew also wasted no time in celebrating their arrival in port, finishing four hours behind De LageLanden and two before Visit Finland. Tales of adventure, what happened and what might have been were swapped long into the night by those who can now note in their log book an ocean crossing few will ever complete.

Eight arrivals in a little over 24 hours shows how closely the teams are matched three-quarters of the way into the world’s longest yacht race, and the final podium positions when the ten yachts return to Southampton on England’s south coast on 22 July are still very much up for the taking.


Gold Coast Australia scored an additional point in their bid to take the Clipper 11-12 title by winning the Ocean Sprint time trial. Their time of 25 hours 53 minutes and 42 seconds for the distance between longitudes 142 degrees west and 136 degrees west could not be beaten. Singaporecame the closest with a time of 27hours 29minutes and 58seconds for the 275-mile distance.

Today Ms Wang Look Fung, Director, Group Corporate Affairs for the yacht’s sponsor, Keppel Corporation, sent skipper Ben Bowley and his crew a message:

'Congratulations on a well-executed race!' she said. 'Despite the grueling conditions that the Pacific Ocean is known for, the team has exemplified the Keppel Can Do! spirit and overcame all odds to secure a commendable podium win.

'Keppelites are proud to be associated with the spirit of achievement, tenacity, perseverance and teamwork that saw the whole crew through the ups and down in this leg that is the toughest in the whole race.'

The fleet will be berthed at Jack London Square until 14 April and will be hosted by the 2012 Strictly Sail Pacific boat show. Gold Coast Australia’s crew will be presented with the Strictly Sail Pacific Clipper Race Cup when the show opens on 9 April.


Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - Finished 0316 UTC 31 March
2 Singapore - Finished 1714 UTC 31 March
3 New York - Finished 2125 UTC 31 March
4 Derry-Londonderry - Finished 2331 UTC 31 March
5 Welcome to Yorkshire - Finished 0746 UTC 1 April
6 Qingdao - Finished 0948 UTC 1 April
7 De LageLanden - Finished 1411 UTC 1 April
8 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - Finished 1809 UTC 1 April
9 Visit Finland - Finished 2030 UTC 1 April
10Geraldton Western Australia - 165nm (+165nm DTL**) Position at 1100 UTC

*DTF = Distance to Finish, **DTL = Distance to Clipper Round the World Yacht Race website

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